The following is another item from the Pending File of the Scriptorius writings:
Dear Ms Gabbleworth,
I have today received your article concerning the sad proceedings in France and Italy in the thirteenth century. Your covering letter asks me to offer a critique, but to limit myself to English usage, omitting comments on your subject. This is exactly the opposite of the stricture placed upon me in my last commission, but I will accommodate you. However, I hope you won’t mind too much if I point out that your text refers to the extirpation of the Cathartics. It really would not do to submit your piece with the inclusion of that last word, especially as you use it several times. Please note that the people concerned were Cathars, though I suppose one could argue that what befell them was about as cathartic as anything could be, or it might have been, had they survived.
Now I will turn to your use of language. It is perhaps a pity that you don’t seem to be a reader of that estimable publication Madazine, which in a recent issue printed a letter received from someone who wished to remain anonymous. You might have found that epistle helpful, as it touches upon several things I am obliged to deal with here. Without going into the various contexts, I note that you mention temperatures as being cold or warm. Those adjectives should be applied to the ambient conditions you are addressing. There are no such things as cold or warm temperatures. The right words are high and low.
You refer to prices as cheap or dear. No, they are not. Here again, high and low are the words you need. The terms cheap and dear apply to goods or services, not to what they cost. You also write of three a.m. in the morning. a.m. is an abbreviation of ante meridium and that means before noon, so it is incorrect to use both parts of that phrase. At another point you write of people travelling at ‘a rate of speed of three miles an hour’. This is pleonasm. Neither ‘rate’ nor ‘speed’ is necessary here. Make it simply ‘travelling at three miles an hour’. There are other examples of this kind throughout your article. You also indulge in tautology on a number of occasions, for example in your second paragraph you write of a ‘tiny little problem’. If it was tiny then clearly it was little, so omit one of those words. I will leave it to you to spot similar instances.
There are more erroneous expressions in your essay, though I appreciate that you are not alone in resorting to them. One thing I found particularly obtrusive was your allusion to an event as leading to a ‘positive benefit’. I have no idea why so many people, even professional broadcasters, write or say this, and would love to know how a benefit can be anything other than positive. In two places, you write of ‘also’ doing something ‘as well’. More redundancy, ‘also’ on its own is sufficient. The words ‘incredible’ and ‘incredibly’ appear in various places of your piece, and in no case is either of them appropriate. I will mention only two instances. You say that a theme is incredibly interesting and that an artefact is incredibly unique. If something is incredible, it shouldn’t be believed, which is surely not what you mean.
You note that someone was ‘absolutely right’ in the way he presented his point of view. If he was right, ‘absolutely’ is unnecessary, as there could not have been any question of degree. In your penultimate paragraph, you write of a woman about to make a decision, saying that she took ‘a few moments’. A moment is any short time, so the plural is not required.
At one point you state that a party of Cathars was decimated by a sudden attack and that with only a tenth of the original number remaining, the group was disbanded. Please note that to decimate means to reduce by one tenth and not to one tenth. For example, to decrease one hundred to ten by decimation, the operation would need to be carried out twenty-two times, in round terms, the succession of figures being 100, 90, 81, 72.9 and so on.
In my desire to avoid being too discouraging, I have intentionally excluded some minor points, but if you make the amendments suggested above, I believe your work will have an improved chance of being accepted.
Norman Lampwick, D.Litt.
Revised 11 September 2018
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